Coconut Grove is known for its trees: Giant oaks, hammocks of hardwoods, and leaves the size of an NBA player's palm. Wild foliage is part of what makes that quaint neighborhood charming. Also notable are the shotgun-style houses that line Charles Avenue, such as the Stirrup House, which is the second-oldest residential structure in Miami's oldest neighborhood.
But local activists complain that the development group behind the "Grove Trilogy" of restaurants on Main Highway, is slowly paving its way into the cutest, greenest parts of the 'hood. Most recently, they were slapped with a city fine for demolishing 100-year-old trees, possibly to make way for a parking lot.
Last week, the Aries Development Group knocked down four large, century-old oaks outside of the Stirrup House property, and the city fined them a $1,000 each for tree removal without a finalized permit. Patrons at the Grove Trilogy of restaurants have to contend with street parking, so many speculate that the extra space will be used for a parking lot.
Gino Falsetto, who runs the Aries Group, did not return multiple requests for comment about why the trees were knocked down. No matter the reason, residents are incensed that they got nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the city.
"If you're gonna put in a million dollars into a structure, tacking on a $4,000 fine is nothing," says Tom Falco, who runs the Coconut Grove Grapevine blog and has lived in the Grove for about 40 years.
Aries Group has a 50-year-lease on the Stirrup House. The house was built more than 100 years ago by a Bahamian man named Ebeneezer Stirrup. Before he died, he put it in his will that the property never be sold to anyone outside of his family. Hence the lease, which gives Aries Group control over what happens around the property.
Grove residents already have a contentious relationship with Aries. They also own parking around the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the beloved institution that was closed down in 2006, and also control the northeast corner of the Playhouse property. Some blame them for the runaway development that's eaten away at the Groves' character.
"I remember when the real hippies where on the sidewalk and selling tie dye," Falco says. "It was an old little village, and now developers are coming in, and they're trying to turn it into Brickell. Its days are numbered."
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